29 May 2009

Smoothie FAIL

When the weather's warm and I'm trying to eat healthfully, I frequently treat myself to a fruit smoothie for breakfast. Due to my human nature, I am a big fan of chocolate milkshakes, and in fact my very first smoothie was a chocolate-banana concoction entitled "Funky Monkey." Although my 17 year-old self snickered while ordering "one Funky Monkey, please," I so relished that smoothie that I became a regular. A chocolate smoothie is in my opinion a lot like a chocolate milkshake but healthier and more flavorful (I know that Julia, an ice cream aficionado, is frowning in disbelief at this…apologies!). But I don't make myself chocolate smoothies for breakfast. When I lived in Israel one summer, it was so hot in the mornings that I repeatedly tried to have chocolate ice cream for breakfast, and it would always make me sick to my stomach. So regretfully I have given up attempting chocolate for breakfast.

My usual smoothie recipe for 1 person goes something like this:


1/2 banana in chunks
1/2 cup frozen fruit (my favorites are peaches, blueberries, or strawberries)
vanilla soymilk poured in the blender up to the level of the top of the fruit
a touch of orange or pineapple juice to give it a little acidity
optional: some plain yogurt to give body and a little roughness

Put all in blender. Pulse on the highest level in short spurts to keep hard frozen chunks from clogging up the blade. Make sure it's all smooth and well-mixed; you might need to wield a rubber scraper to move large chunks around.

George, I should note, does not like his smoothies with vanilla soymilk. He prefers just yogurt and juice. George's tribal-anarchist cousin Andy adds granola to his smoothies.

Anyway, this morning I was whipping up a quick smoothie for myself. When I started pouring the rich creamy smoothness down my throat, I almost spit it out again. I had substituted grapefruit juice for orange juice by accident, and I loathe grapefruit juice. So yes, I screwed up a smoothie. I attempted to procrastinate by writing a blog post. Now I'm finished and I have to drink up my awful smoothie because there are children starving in Zimbabwe.

24 May 2009

Mexican Lasagna

Lasagna. Gooey, brick-thick, brightly striped with oozing cheese and succulent ground meat. Everyone loves lasagna for the same reasons that make it a healthy vegetarian's nightmare. When I was twenty I began teaching myself to cook, and one of the first things I attempted was vegetarian lasagna. At the time I was renting a room in a house, and I was allotted one half of one shelf of the refrigerator plus two hours of kitchen time per week. Lasagna seemed perfect for that sort of situation: quick, filling, and rectangular.

The first incarnation of a long series of vegetarian lasagna failures was tofu-garlic lasagna with whole wheat noodles. At that time I did not know how to drain tofu and my first few lasagnas were watery and bland. The recipe writer's idea was that people wouldn't realize that one layer has less cheese in it if you mix the cheese with something flavorful and substantial like tofu and raw garlic. People realize. I realized. It was pretty gross. But I ate it anyway—I was 20.

I also put too much sauce in. I would just pour it over the noodles for each layer, and even after the tofu was banished I would end up with lasagna soup. Some angelic individual (whom I have forgotten) taught me to space out spoonfuls of sauce and then smear the excess over bare spots. Lately some eaters have been telling me I don't have enough sauce. But they're still eating it, and I don't have to pick up a hot 9 x 13 and drain lasagna soup into the sink.

Once the tofu and garlic were exiled, the lasagna levels from the bottom up were:
noodle, sauce, kidney beans, cheese,
noodle, sauce, steamed vegetable, cheese,
noodle, sauce, cheese.

Unfortunately the kidney beans slipped out and lay around on the plate imitating baby cockroaches. If I mashed them a little bit first they stayed in better, but that meant more work. I tried to glue them in with cheese but then there was too much cheese to consider this anything but unhealthy. These lasagnas were of course delicious. People would vacuum up an entire lasagna in one meal.

I had gotten the hang of not breaking my whole wheat noodles while they boiled,and in fact no one ever noticed that they were whole wheat. But after I read an article in Vegetarian Times magazine about using tortillas instead of noodles for the lasagna, I never bought lasagna noodles again. Tortillas are so much faster, and I am so lazy and impatient. I use corn tortillas, which makes my lasagna gluten-free. The trick is to cut the tortillas in half so you can put a straight edge against the side of the baking dish. The tortillas can overlap or not, it totally doesn't matter.

My latest substitution was refried vegetarian beans for kidney beans. Refried beans are saltier, but they give you the gooey stickiness and heft you need if you want less cheese. Because I was using corn tortillas and refried beans, I switched from pasta sauce to enchilada sauce because hey, why not go all the way Mexican? I won't lie; my latest lasagna tasted a lot like enchiladas. But what's wrong with that? Olé!

Sarah's Mexican Lasagna

Lasagna layers, bottom to top:
corn tortillas, enchilada sauce, refried beans, partly steamed broccoli pieces,
corn tortillas, enchilada sauce, refried beans, partly steamed zucchini slices,
corn tortillas, enchilada sauce, a thick layer of shredded "Mexican" cheeses.

Preheat the oven to 375. Layer everything in a 9x13 glass baking dish. Cook about 40 minutes until cheese is bubbling and browning on top. Serve without apology.

Feedback So Far
Julia: It's delicious!
Doug: It's worth the wait.
George: It's not bad. It's fine.
Lizzie: It's a success!
Me: It's a little too salty.

UPDATE: They liked it better a year later with sides/toppings of sliced fresh avocado, chopped cilantro, and Frank's Red Hot sauce.

22 May 2009

Lemony Lentil Salad

Lentils become a different class of legume in the summer. No more hot and heavy soups or darkly fragrant dals. Now is the time for chilled salads. The Mediterranean seeps into our food, liberally sprinkling everything with lemon juice and olive oil.

Again I turned to Bittman's vegetarian cookbook; almost all my other cookbooks are in storage until I finish moving—and Vegetarian Times didn't inspire me with one recipe this month. I was seeking something with lemons in it. A few days ago George asked me if I had ever eaten a lemon, and it turns out that I had only sucked on one for puckering purposes. George said lemons taste like candy. He eats them as if they were oranges. Sweltering in the North Carolinian heat, we took a chilled lemon from our refrigerator and cut it into wedges. I bit into one and reeled from the burst of tartness and tang. It was Awesome.

So I was delighted to discover Bittman's recipe for lentil salad with chunks of lemon. The recipe calls for cooked lentils tossed with juice of 1 lemon plus chunks of lemony flesh from another lemon. Then you mix in shallot, capers, olive oil, salt, and pepper. It's important to toss the lentils with everything else while they're still hot from cooking so that they absorb everything. It tasted excellent while still warm—even George liked it, and he's been a picky puss lately. I thought it would taste even better after chilling.

I was wrong. It was ruined! The shallots just overwhelmed everything else with onion-ness. George said they should have been cooked. I could have poured boiling water over them or steamed them or sautéed them or something. Or maybe I should have just left them out. In any case, Beware the Onions.

19 May 2009

Onion Salad

Tonight I tried to make one of the salads from Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything Vegetarian. I did try. Laziness and Impatience altered the recipe. Then the results weren't what I'd hoped (George handed his salad over to me, half-eaten), so I changed the recipe even more. Of course Doug ate the whole thing and said it was fabulous. Doug To The Rescue again.

Bittman's recipe called for mesclun greens, but I don't like buying my greens stored in plastic, and outside New Haven I can't find loose lettuce mixes like they sell in Berkeley. Plastic-stored greens give me that not-so-fresh feeling, so I bought heads of endive and red leaf and Boston lettuce instead. Bittman suggested dressing the greens with a Honey-Garlic Vinaigrette, but I shrugged and just squirted on some fresh lemon juice. George approved.

Meanwhile, I carmelized 2 onions and 2 shallots in some extra virgin olive oil on low heat for almost an hour. According to Bittman's instructions, I added 2 Tablespoons honey, several grinds of fresh pepper, a large amount of salt, and 2 Tablespoons fresh thyme. This was the good part. Then Bittman said to add a cup of pitted, oil-cured black olives and keep sautéeing. The olives had too sharp a flavor and ruined everything. Maybe if I'd sautéed them longer the flavor would have mellowed, but I got hungry and tired of stirring. Everything else tasted fine, though, so George and I agreed to leave out the olives next time. Neither George nor I could taste the thyme and pepper at all because I put them in so early I cooked their flavor away. You need to use dried herbs if you want the flavor to survive a lot of cooking. It's probably fine without them. So here's the altered recipe:

Onion Salad

3 onions, sliced, or 2 onions and some shallots, or whatever
3 Tablespoons olive oil (George Mateljan says you should cook with high-oleic safflower instead)
1 heaping tsp. salt
2 Tablespoons honey
4 Cups bite-sized lettuce greens plus a head of endive, torn into bits
juice of 1 lemon

1. Over low heat, sauté the onions, salt, and honey in the oil for 30 minutes to an hour, until it tastes really good. Let cool a little.

2. Toss the lettuce and endive with lemon juice. Top with onion mixture and serve.

09 May 2009

Vegan Subletting/ Camping Meals

I haven't updated for a while because for a week I have not had access to the Internet. In fact I am currently typing away in a North Carolinian Internet café. George and I are subletting a student apartment for a few weeks while we try to find a place to live in Durham. This particular sublet was not furnished with anything except table, chairs, bed, and a shower curtain rod. So we had to bring our kitchen supplies with us. We didn't want to take much, so all we have is a seasoned cast-iron frypan, a cheap pot, a cutting board, a large knife, a small knife, a collander, a wooden spoon, and a steamer basket. For spices we brought salt, black peppercorns in a grinder, and extra virgin olive oil. That's it.

As you may remember, I am keeping vegan for a while to get healthier and lose some weight. So all of the dishes that George and I have invented and cooked for each other are vegan. And some of them have been amazingly tasty. You can probably make many of these while camping as well as long as you have a portable stove. Just make sure not to have leftovers!

For Shabbat I asked George to make food I was sure he would like because of my enormous failed pasta sauce that I had to eat for about 3 meals by myself while George downed cereal. He and I made Meal 1 together and he invented Meal 2 by himself. Here are some quick meals that were successful:

Meal 1:
Asian pear slices
Hodgson Mill whole wheat couscous with garlic seasoning package
swiss chard, stems and leaves

George cooked the swiss chard by first slicing the stems thinly, then sauteed in olive oil until tender. That got mixed into the couscous. He chopped up the leaves and added them with a bit of water into the frypan. He cooked the water off and then cooked the leaves briefly a little longer, squeezed a little lemon juice on them, and served them separately.

Meal 2:
broccoli, crown and stem
Yukon gold potatoes with garlic and parsley

George sliced the broccoli stems and heads into pieces of roughly equal size, then boiled them in salted water until tender.
For the potatoes, George boiled them in their skins until nearly tender, poured off the water, and cooked them a little more in the pan to dry off the outside. Then he set them aside. He sautéed
whole garlic cloves (peeled) in olive oil for several minutes. He cut up the potato into big chunks and added it to the garlic with salt and pepper, then cooked the whole mixture until golden brown. Chopped parsley was added right before serving.
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